"To live and die, and mount again in triumphant body, and next time, try the upper air-is no schoolboy’s theme! It is a jolly thought to think that we can be Eternal-when air and earth are full of lives that are gone-and done-and a conceited thing, this promised Resurrection! Congratulate me –John-Lad-and 'here’s a health to you'- that we have each a pair of lives, and need not chary be, of the one 'that now is'-"Long a fan of Emily Dickinson, I was really captivated by these lines. Obviously she was a person of faith, indeed, the child-like faith characteristic of an era when acceptance of grace and belief in the promise of resurrection seemed an easier path to take. Sure, Emily lived at a time when science - including Darwinian discourses on evolution - was perceived as an increasingly dangerous threat to Christian canon. But I'm guessing that tucked away in her Amherst home, somewhat isolated from the intellectual tumult of the academy, she found it easier to hold that vision of the "Eternal" close to her heart, unsullied by the assault of reason.
Letter to John Graves, late April 1856, Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters
I had noted in posts from several months ago that the last few years have been a period of spiritual crisis for me, punctuated by severe questioning of my Christian heritage, and a curiosity with both Buddhism and Quakerism. I had experienced this drift to agnosticism during my 20s, an age when many people start to question the tenets - religious or otherwise - that have formed one's understanding since childhood. For years, and even more so of late, my family, all pretty regular churchgoers, have regarded me with the same suspicion early Christian bishops likely accorded the Albigensians or Arians, among numerous groups declared heretical. (Some of this suspicion about the nature of my belief is perhaps justified given my occasionally explicit non-trinitarian sympathies.)
A few months ago our local PBS station aired a three-part documentary, presented by English polymath Jonathan Miller, on the concept of "disbelief." (I discussed Miller's series in greater detail in my July 30th post.) Miller's "History of Disbelief" - he eschewed the term "atheism" - examined the philosophical underpinnings of disbelief in god(s) from the ancient world to the present. To a curmudgeonly skeptic like me, the content proved compelling and doubtless prompted me to revisit some of the issues first raised in my youth.
So now we approach the holidays and, beginning on Sunday, December 2nd, enter the Advent season, for those of you who follow liturgical calendars. And with Advent and Christmas one has to face again the theological questions of the immaculate conception, the virgin birth, the star, and the magi. Santa and the commercial blitz aside, isn't this what we're supposed to be celebrating on December 25th? I guess for those with "the faith of a child" it's easy to take that step of acceptance and just believe in these miracles. For me, tis the season of doubt. I want to believe without question. Yet that uncertainty is like that cough that won't go away, the wound that never heals.